On April 5, 2017, a Chicago federal judge denied Elgin School District U-46’s motion to dismiss a retaliation claim in a case involving allegations that the school district retaliated against the plaintiff, Carla Vasquez, by refusing to rehire her unless she withdrew a charge of discrimination she previously filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the school district. The court determined that further discovery in the case was needed to determine whether Vasquez was able to perform the essential functions of her job as a bus driver’s assistant with or without reasonable accommodations and whether she had any right to be rehired.

Vasquez had been employed by the school district since 1997 as a bus driver’s assistant. She suffered two separate work-related injuries and had surgery in 2012. Following the surgery, Vasquez attempted to return to work with restrictions, but the school district did not allow her to return because it had a policy in place that did not permit employees to work with restrictions. After 12 months of leave, the school district terminated Vasquez’s employment. Vasquez then filed a grievance with the school district and a charge of disability discrimination with the EEOC alleging that the school district failed to reasonably accommodate her by refusing to allow her to return to work with restrictions.

Although the school district denied Vasquez’s grievance, it offered to settle by allowing Vasquez to return to work provided that she agreed to withdraw her EEOC charge of discrimination and could perform her duties without restrictions. Vasquez rejected the settlement offer and pursued her claims in federal court. She alleged that the school district retaliated against her in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act when it refused to rehire her unless she agreed to drop her charge of discrimination.

In its motion to dismiss the retaliation claim, the school district contended that Vasquez had no right to be rehired and, therefore, the school district could condition her employment on her withdraw of the EEOC charge. Vasquez, however, argued that her termination violated the ADA because the school district refused to provide her reasonable accommodations and, therefore, she was entitled to a job with the school district and her employment could not be conditioned on her withdrawal of the EEOC charge. The outcome of this case could impact other school districts with similar policies that do not allow employees to work with restrictions as well as condition any possible rehiring.

Contact Chris Hoffmann or Cindi DeCola with your employment discrimination inquiries.